Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ring, a ring o' roses, Pocket full of Posies...

This nursery rhyme seems to be the current political anthem in India. It has something to do with February having so few days, the receding winter or the approaching budget sessions. The politicians have been falling over each other to fall lower than the others.

The leaders in this race (based on media coverage) are the Karnataka legislators discovered watching porn on their cell phones. Forget what the news channels say, I find their commitment to parliamentary ethos creditable. With umpteen cases of parliamentarians & legislators playing truant while the house is in session as a precedent & when they could have watched a steamier film on a larger screen, these gentlemen made it a point to attend the legislature proceedings. 

That they were distracted enough to play with their cellphones (they claim to have accidentally clicked a link), is a testimony to the fallen standards of parliamentary debate. Had the discussions in the august house been more interesting & participative, these gentleman would have been a part of it. Why blame them? How many of you actually watch the live telecast from Lok Sabha & Rajya Sabha?

Of course, the Karnataka assembly took immediate steps to prevent recurrence of such events. It has banned TV cameras when the house is in session! (http://www.ndtv.com/

The assembly also plans to equip all MLA's with iPads (http://expressbuzz.com/). The fruits of electoral toil are certainly sweet! The journo's would now have to work hard to get stories & sweat it out to fill the pages & airtime. 


While this constitutional authority was taking control of things, there was another one which witnessed its authority being repeatedly undermined. The election commission (EC) is being challenged by the congress leaders in UP over the issue of quota within quota within quota. Had it not been busy covering up the statues of Mayawati AND elephants in UP, perhaps the EC would have had enough energy left to exert its power over these errant politicians.

Unfortunately this time, the EC was too busy in non-core activities. Even before the campaign started, the EC was already on the job - confiscating liquor bottles, supposedly meant to be distributed to the electorate. Just imagine, had all this liquor actually reached the intended recipients, the voting percentage would have been so much higher. Perhaps, even in Mumbai! India would then have been an even bigger democracy!

Unfortunately, confiscation of liquor by EC had another fallout. The colour red is vanishing from Kolkata. Not the left front, stupid. Its leadership is in the able hands of nonagenarians, who hope to regain power from Didi in not too distant a future. Today's news is about Kingfisher Airlines suspending operations in Kolkata. (Dr. Mallya being a parliamentarian is coincidental.) Grounding the fleet is a small price to pay to keep the spirits high. Let's hope it is only the skies, & not the watering holes, that are deprived of the King of Good Times.

When a battle was being fought to drive away/protect the north Indians in Mumbai/Maharashtra, a marathi manoos fell. Of all the places, in UP, North India! I am speaking about Nitin Gadkari who remained unhurt when the stage he was sitting on collapsed. (watch it on http://www.youtube.com/)

It may be hilarious but I am amazed this is the first time such a mishap has occurred. We have many leaders who are heavyweights politically as well as physically... the likes of Jayalalitha, Mayawati. These high profile leaders spend a large amount of time atop (temporarily erected) stages, much larger than Gadkari. They also have a more active public life than Gadkari. So, why only Gadkari? Perhaps, these leaders have already fallen lower (in their political life) than Gadkari & cannot fall further.

But such a fall is not totally unexpected. Once upon a time Indian leaders undertook padyatras to communicate with a larger audience. Beginning with respected leaders like Gandhi & Vinoba Bhave to poltical stalwarts like Chandrashekhar (who later went to be the Prime Minister), all resorted to a padyatra. But things changed after the very succesful Rathyatra by LK Advani (who is still in the race to be the PM). The success of Advani signaled the demise of padyatra as a political weapon. The result is for all to see - overweight politicians. Had they kept walking, they would have been leaner & fitter. Unfortunately, they favour only their Johny Walkers, not the message.  

Elsewhere, a fitter politician was lost his anger, finally. The long weeks out in the heat & dust of the countryside made Rahul angry enough to tear apart the SP manifesto. One hopes for his sake that he is able to do the same in the mandate too!

Amidst all this there was one leader who kept his cool. MSD, down under, has again started finishing matches & Team India has rediscovered the winning ways, today's loss notwithstanding.

Monday, February 13, 2012

God's Own Country... The other versions I came across

Well, Social Anarchist, Kerela has a lot more to offer than just bandhs & posters depicting Lenin, Marx & Engels.


One of the most common sights, at least along the western coastal belt, is that of Chinese fishing nets. These are found everywhere - backwaters, rivers & the coast.



Traveling through the Kottayam countryside offers a different view altogether. No backwaters, sea or the chinese nets. What you see  is hills, green hills, beautiful hills... I suggest, keep the camera/mobile aside & just let your eyes feast the surroundings.



What is this? I do not know. The road was too narrow for the car to stop & let me have a good photo. Nor could I stop & walk back for the same as there was decent traffic on the road & I had an appointment to keep. I hope some mallu bhai enlightens me.






This one, I know. Its the Kochi skyline.







The setting sun creates its won magic in the evenings across Kerela (at least the stretch I traveled across)...




There is more to Kerela than just natural beauty. Visakh suggested I try out a particular dish. Like all mallu names, I do not know what it is called, something like parimeen or so... I did, the version cooked wrapped in a banana leaf. All I can say is that I had my biggest meal in years!!  (The pics below are those at other outlets, though equally inviting.)








Fortunately my wife was not around, else she would definitely make me a well-rounded person (no pun intended) ;-)




The good part is, I would continue to visit Kerela over the next few months. As the avian knows, there is a larger world beyond the photo frame.










Saturday, February 11, 2012

God's Own Country

Just back from my first visit to Kerela, unfortunately a business trip. My very first visit & I realised why it is called "God's Own Country"...



I fact, I traveled by road from Kochi to Thiruvananthapuram & Kerela is really a beautiful place. For someone from Gujarat, it is an out of this world experience - so much greenery all around (seems, there are more trees in Kerela than mallu's all over the world), no dust (you can travel with the windows down), hear the birds when you stop by the roadside even late in the morning!


But I discovered the real essence of the famous tagline, when the gentleman across the table told me in a very friendly manner, "You are not from Kerela. We will confirm the time for the meeting. You will reach here. But some bandh may be declared. Some strike may take place. Some minister may die. We will then have to cancel it. This is Kerela. Such things happen."


Thanks, chettai. I would still come & welcome the day off!!



Sunday, February 5, 2012

Baroda Runs for Progress



Sweating on a cold February morning has its own exhilaration! The Vadodara International Marathon 2012 (VIM) was just such an occasion. VIM may be a half marathon, but it surpassed the Mumbai Marathon in terms of total participants as well as international ones!! Difficult to believe, but that’s what the media reported.

An early assembly meant that even in the early hours of the morning (5:30 AM is technically morning), all roads in Baroda witnessed a one-way peak traffic – towards the Vaccine Institute grounds. But for the darkness, I would have climbed the stairs to my office. Instead, I walked down to the venue in what I supposed was a warm-up (!) to the run.

The crowds started gathering for the race & one was not sure whether the organizers had graduated to handling such a mammoth gathering in only its 3rd year. Fortunately, Baroda has been organizing much larger garba’s since ages & it was smooth as ever. Baroda also has the most disciplined & orderly population in the whole of Gujarat (perhaps, India too) & the credit needs to be shared with the Barodians. One of the exceptions to this orderly way of life (is it because I stayed outside for over 6 years?), I was sure I would have a tough time later in the day having only a week’s practice to build up the reserves. For years, the only exercise I ever did was getting up in the morning!! I had resolved to run the full designated 5 km, having done the 7-km course some years earlier in Mumbai. But I am on the other side of 40 now & hence the doubts.

The race began just as the sky was lighting up & the resolve was put to test. However, all fears were allayed as there were enough participants ahead content on walking that one couldn’t run at a stretch & was forced to stroll along with the crowd. This also made it possible to admire the sideshows that the organizers had put up along the route.

If you wonder how Baroda can host the best garba’s in the world, you should have seen the participants dancing at every music station set up by various schools along the route. While Kolaveri di got its pride of place as the reigning anthem of the nation, the ruling theme was Sport (Chak de & Waka Waka). But the most crowds were at the Bhangra junction. As they say, Singh is King.
 
Some other kids proved this too. They dressed up as Amar(jit) Akbar Anthony! Poor Amitabh Bachchan, the brand ambassador of Gujarat.  



The one performer I respected was the tightrope artist who was undisturbed by the crowds on the road but, in fact, distracted the runners enough to make them stop & watch. Perhaps, he is used to performing for a crowd & this may have been the largest in his career! Bravo, young man! We often fall from the tightropes that we manage in our lives… hopefully, watching your resolve & focus would help the rest of us too.

And also the athletes-turned-impromptu musicians, who exhibited their talent with the musical instruments right there. There was also a group of students running in the memory of one of their friends who lost his life to cancer.


video

Apart from the throng that had gathered on the route (including the canines) & on the terraces & balconies, the commuters were forced to witness the show at the various circles (called crossroads in other cities). Today, the traffic cops had an easy time manning the circles – there was no honking, no vehicles inching forward when the cop’s back was turned & no one jumping the lights! If they behaved like this all week, life would be so peaceful.

There were other positives too, those often overlooked during the daily routine but an inherent part of the city’s ethos. The life in the city has been disrupted many a times in the past by the violence engineered by vested interests. But today, members of all communities were on the streets supporting Baroda’s “run for progress”. Some local residents had set up booths to provide water to the runners. While the Indian tricolor could be seen at various points.

Then, there was this kid in an oversized official marathon tee (which could very well have been a kurta), unmindful of the fact & contented in running his own race.

What also sets this event apart from the others in other cities is the fact that it is organized & managed by volunteers & NGO’s. The role of the administration/government is limited to approvals/NOC’s, provision of Chief Guest & policing the traffic. The rest is done by a team of volunteers. Hopefully, sometime in the future the local governance too would be handled by the local volunteers.

The participants are also disciplined & well behaved. Gul Panag can always participate in this particular race & she would go back every time with only positive memories.

The negatives? Standing in the cold morning for over an hour to listen to politicians is not the best way to start the day. But it is worse for the homeless, who are removed from their abode on the streets, as it is along the route of the marathon. The organizers should think about providing permanent shelter to the homeless from the revenues generated by the event.

The local government should seriously start working on providing better & wider roads to city. Every year, the race is only going to be bigger & roads need to keep pace. The present roads are not suitable for the amateur/fun run, as the roads are not wide enough to accommodate the participants comfortably. 

The serious runners have no option but to stroll behind those in front as they do not find space enough to get ahead. In a place like Delhi, they can at least grope the ladies & get ahead. But Baroda is too civilized to do so!

Alternately, the organizers can look at more routes for different categories of participants (students, females, etc.).

This was only the 3rd edition & like all things associated with Baroda, the VIM too is destined for greater heights. My verdict – thumbs up! Next year, I should be doing the 15-km course.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Disappearing Glaciers - Blame it on the thieves!!

Human ingenuity knows no bounds. 

This gentleman in Chile went off with a chunk of ice (suspected to be) from a glacier - all 5 tonnes of it. Unfortunately, for him too, he was caught. He planned to sell designer ice cubes to bars! (Read the full story at http://www.guardian.co.uk/)

So, its not just the melting icecaps due to global warming that is an are of concern. Human activities, that do not directly cause emissions (read warming), are also to be blamed...


This makes it a serious business. As long as climate change was a result of changing lifestyles  owing to economic development & technological improvement, we could sit back & shrug our shoulders. Who would want to switch off the air conditioner simply because the sea levels were rising? But now there is another probable reason - people carrying off the ice for commercial gains. Who is to stop this new species of thieves from graduating to stealing rainforests or even the earth underneath our own houses?


The time has come for all concerned to come together & form advocacy groups for preservation of the polar ice caps on the lines of PETA (http://www.peta.org/). Something like People for Icebergs & Glaciers (PIGs) or People Against Global warming & Legal Apathy (PAGLA).

Where do you (the concerned but powerless, isolated individual) come in? Here's how you can contribute:

* Next time you come across designer ice cubes, pls make sure they are from man-made ice.
* Or, you may take your own stock of ice cubes when you hit the bar.
* Spread the word around.
* Come up with your own suggestions & share...

Else, the poor polar bear may not be left with even this small perch!!



Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Missing State?

One of my other Blogs has a post titled "India's richest shrine goes green" (http://gasenergyenvironment.blogspot.in/2012/01/indias-richest-shrine-goes-green.html), that talks about the efforts of the temple at Tirumala towards sourcing energy from sustainable sources. While the effort HAS to be lauded, this also raises some very serious questions about the role of the State in the nation's development. 

For the uninitiated, the establishment at Tirumala is the richest shrine in India, supported solely on donations by devotees. It also has footfalls that would be the envy of any retail giant. It has leveraged on this equity to implement sustainable development in its neighbourhood & hopes to influence the wider public opinion in this direction.

The establishment claims "
In a religious place like Tirumala, we can set the example by going green. Probably the impact will be much more than normal government advertisements or publicity". Wow!!

Global wind power giants Suzlon and Enercon have donated turbines to the shrine (7.5 MW generating capacity). The cost of these turbines would be recovered from the ones they sell to the public & private sector power producers. This results in a higher power cost to ordinary citizens, while the richest shrine (annual revenues of Rs. 1700 crores!!) gets it for free. If these & other corporates donated renewable energy generating equipment to individual villages, just imagine the the population that would experience a bright night for the first time in their lives. To  get the real import of the question, you may pls visit another of my post: 

A local company, Green Energy Solutions aims to develop multiple wind farms to supply the entire temple's energy & plans
 "to tap into the pool of devotees worldwide, asking them to make a donation of green power to the temple". Here is another entrepreneur seeking divine help!! But, he is not looking at passive support from god this time... He plans to exploit the religious emotions of the people for commercial gains. Fortunately, there are others in India who are employing similar means (read: religious) for noble gains. One of these is Morari Bapu, who convinced the fishermen in Saurashtra to protect the whale shark. His intervention has made the fisherfolk an unlikely protector of endangered species!! What does he gain? Nothing. What do the fishing community gain? Nothing. What does the human race gain? Survival of a fellow inhabitant of this planet.

Just like others in India, this temple also gets devotees who make generous donations of both cash and resources, including diamonds, sheets of gold or bundles of cash. "We have found that a lot of non-resident Indians are interested in donating sustainable technology instead" says Madhu Babu of Green Energy Solutions. One admires the connect the NRI's have with their country of birth. But why can't they exhibit towards their home town or native village, the same philanthropy that they display towards religious shrines? The national power deficit would reduce significantly if the NRI's (and the local population too) make material donations to their home towns, rather than the sundry religious shrines. Perhaps, they may not get a receipt for claiming tax benefits, but that would be a small price to repay for their janmabhoomi. 

What does this tell us? We find that a religious organisation has taken over & is guiding the development agenda in its neighbourhood (something akin to the naxalites discharging the dual functions of administration & justice in their areas of operations). It is being actively helped in this direction by large corporates as well as small time entrepreneurs. The expat philanthropy is also converging towards this direction. The local devotee also makes his own individual contribution for this noble task. Many of these devotees would also not be paying the due taxes! Who is missing in all this action? The State!! Where is the government in the above story? It is too busy missing its solar targets by a two-thirds. 

The government is taking several steps to achieve its stated goals of sustainable development. But the steps do not count when the need of the hour is giant leaps. Thus, we find other public funded organisations, who are not accountable like the government (the largest public funded organisation) occupying the space vacated by the State. The result of this abdication of responsibility can be seen in areas controlled by the naxalites & the government’s futile efforts to reclaim lost territory.

If this is going to be a consistent feature of the State’s performance, it would be better to hand over the administration to the religious, cultural, social organisations. They definitely can plan, execute & manage better than those in power. They are also better at raising resources. Perhaps, they would stop taxing the incomes of individuals & compensate this by donations! That would put an end to generation of additional black money in the economy, while the individuals would be left with more of their incomes for themselves. I would definitely love it. So would you too. But Anna Hazare would be deprived of the raison d'etre of his existence.
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